Oleg Gramotenko, The founder of the energy company Tesla Energo shared with readers his vision of how to solve extremely pressing issues in the field of “green” energy. According to an experienced expert, the problem is not only in the “green” sector, but most importantly — in the attitude of many responsible managers to this area in general, which implies the need to reform the management of the entire energy system.
LDaily: Please tell us about Tesla Energo. How did the idea of creating the project come about
O. Gramotenko: The company was registered in 2012. Our first name was Volyn SES. In 2015, we rebranded and became Solar Village. After visiting the Intersolar exhibition in Munich, we realized that solar technology and the word “village” do not fit together, so our marketer Yuri Stanishevsky suggested that we should be called both modestly and tastefully. That is how the name “Tesla Energo” appeared. The project was born when the retail electricity market was just starting out, when no one knew anything about it yet. At that time, we brought the first solar panels to the Zhytomyr region.
Today we are the largest solar energy company in the Zhytomyr region and one of the most developed and fast-growing in Ukraine. We focus on energy, in which Tesla Energo develops, builds, and manages solar parks.
LDaily: What is your business today?
O. Gramotenko: Today we are an investment fund because Tesla Energo is one of the companies in the holding and the company representing the energy holding. We maintain solar power plants, build, provide some services to retail customers. Now we want to go to Energy Storage, to hydrogen — to everything related to advanced technologies. However, our business is much broader. There is a company called “Tesla Energoservice”, which maintains solar power plants. There is a Tesla Agro project. There is also Tesla Home, which for the first time provides people with independent zero-emission housing. Tesla Food is a dynamically developing chain of delivery restaurants. So far, we are represented in Zhytomyr, but we will continue to develop this network. We have also invested in partner companies.
Business today is essentially an investment fund — a small family office.
LDaily: In your opinion, are Ukrainians ready for the transition to ecological energy, given its high cost? How does demand change from year to year?
O. Gramotenko: Man shows his inner readiness externally. If they were ready, there would be a completely different energy sector in Ukraine. So far, we have an oligarchic energy system. This is observed not only in the energy sector but also in the medical sector. Energy is no exception: it is completely blocked by Oblenergo, which is in five hands. The main generating assets are in three or four hands … All of them have a relationship with the authorities, all of them have been milking this “cow” for more than a year, and we, with our payments, help them to feel good. From the standpoint of the energy system, we are likely to collapse, because, in order to do something new, we need to tear down the old. We have a payment crisis, we have more expensive electricity, people don’t have sufficient funds to pay their bills, rising costs have already backed up real wages, so I am far from optimistic that energy will be “green” in the near future.
Yes, those who constantly say the phrase Green Deal will have a green tongue. They repeat it like a mantra! Nevertheless, this does not make our country more environmentally friendly. Absolutely nothing changes. Here, take Instagram, Facebook, Zoom meetings of ministers, deputy ministers, deputies, on paper everything is fine, but it’s not so rosy in real life. Not bad in the visual sense — Ukraine is a unique country that allows us to develop and we have many opportunities. But we lose time, it is the most expensive for us. It is bad. Therefore, I would not like to compare us, for example, with Poland or chase indicators. We have our own way and it is completely independent. We can go through it, but for this, we must now abandon, probably, everything that has to do with populism and focus on the case, bringing it to a positive result. From the point of view of “green” energy, we see that when the interests of one narrow circle of people come first and the interests of many others (for example, investors) are ignored, then, of course, we fall. This will not make green energy more environmentally friendly until they believe us. And who should believe us? First of all, the domestic investor, ie our citizens. As soon as they believe in ecology, they will start financing it.
Does demand change from year to year? Yes, of course, it is changing. People want to optimize costs, and now we get more and more retail applications. Not everyone is satisfied because we selectively work with customers and equipment that we supply to the market. Demand is changing, the cost of electricity from the “roof” — 6-6.5 Eurocents. You can compare this to what you consume from the network, and you will understand what it will give you. Our company from the very beginning is not a supporter of the “green” tariff, although we fought for it because we must fulfill the commitments made to this. However, we are supporters of a transparent market. A transparent market is not a situation where several companies have access to cheap electricity and everyone else buys expensive electricity. It is wrong.
Is the demand changing? — Of course, it changes. Will it grow? — Yes, it will definitely grow.
LDaily: What are the challenges facing green energy today? What are the problems and ways of its development in Ukraine?
O. Gramotenko: The only challenge is the failure of the state to fulfill its contractual obligations. This is a problem, perhaps not quite of energy — it is a problem of law, investment climate. This is a manual control problem. There is nothing we can do about it because we need to reform the whole system — the judiciary, and others as well. Non-compliance means non-payment. This is a crisis of disconnection, the lack of a balancing market. This is a chain of the same crisis. For five years, we talked about the balancing market — and the country has done absolutely nothing in this direction. All our proposals — and we had about 40 of them, which we sent to the Office of the President, the Verkhovna Rada, and the Energy Committee — all failed. Nobody is interested in solving the energy crisis — everyone is interested in making money from this crisis. Green energy is a hostage, but it has exposed the global problems of Ukraine’s oligarchic energy structure, thus diverting resources. This does not suit those who are accustomed to earning on repairs, cash, and purchases. That is, someone who is accustomed to buying and draining electricity at cheap prices. This is all revealed by the “green” energy. Therefore, there was, in fact, one problem: this energy has become unpopular.
Problems of the way of development … I think that the people who currently “manage” energy processes are not on the way with “green” energy. As long as they are at the helm and the President believes that they have something to do with the power system, the problems will only grow. These people have a legal relationship, but no internal, moral, professional relationship. Leaders of this level must understand their responsibility for the future of energy, for the future of what we will use. However, there is no such responsibility among them — neither professional nor corporate… There is one goal — to make money, to mow loot. Here they are mowing the loot since the election of Poroshenko, mowing it in huge quantities — all state generations and the regulator is in the process of total destruction of the energy system. Will it be brought out from the shadows? I think that this year there will be an energy crisis that will reveal even more problems. Only then, the President will intervene in the situation together with the National Security and Defense Council. I believe that the strategy will be the same as it was on other controversial or difficult investment and political issues.
LDaily: Are investors ready to invest in Ukraine’s “green” energy today?
O. Gramotenko: Yes, they are ready. Ready to invest in spite of everything. There are investors, there are funds. Let’s return to the well-known facts: a lot of money is printed in the world, there are funds in the world that are satisfied with a yield of 7-8% per annum, there are people with big money and companies with high liquidity in the world. They invest and diversify. Ukraine is a country of diversified risk, where they want to earn mainly on its growth, on potential opportunities; hence, the profitability should be higher than the European average. That is why there are investors and they are ready to invest in Ukraine. Institutional investors, such as the EBRD, IFC, EFKO, and others, who look at the political component, the social component — these investors set their requirements for projects and debts. Therefore, the EBRD is currently concerned, most likely, about the technical default of the market, as non-payment of more than 5% is already a technical default.
There will be a denouement this year. I think that this series called the “Energy System of Ukraine” is reaching its final first season. I think the reform process will begin closer to the summer. This long road will not suit investors or us personally. There will be problems due to constant changes, but we must overcome this path. I believe in some green plan. The green plan is not just a political caveat. Figuratively speaking, it is a green light that will finally light up in our heads. It will signal that we are changing, and the energy system will change accordingly. I believe that the time will come when people will stop going to Oblenergo and Oblenergo will offer its services. And people will choose. We need a system that will balance markets, especially energy, for natural market monopolies. I have faith in it. I am an optimist and I want to help the President achieve this goal in every possible way. Naturally, the President does not hear everything: he has an environment that misleads him, and because of this, of course, there is a barrier to communication. But no matter what, the belief remains that we are on the right track.
LDaily: What are your investment plans for the near future?
O. Gramotenko: In the very near future we are about to develop projects, and one of them is Tesla Food. We want to make such casual food with quality and ecological food. We also plan to develop the Tesla Home project, which is currently being completed. These are no longer concepts, but real projects that are implemented in the form of experimental samples. This is an extension of Tesla Agro. We want to expand in the agricultural sector and invite farmers, partners who need our expertise, who need investment. Tesla Home, by the way, will also actually be a real estate project with growth, and we are very much looking forward to collaborating with developers. We support startups, but today, however, it is mainly investments in silicone startups in the United States, which are corporatized. Still, such a plan works for us. From technology businesses, we are actively looking for partners and preparing energy solutions that should be implemented after the crisis.
All investment plans are currently in standby mode, a significant part of them, as our business shows, is associated with the negative situation of a very strong impact of the pandemic. No matter what we say about Zoom, about the pleasures of remote work, and in general about the new corporate culture — still, the cancellation of personal meetings, travels, the impossibility of interpersonal communication is critical for us. It is important to win the trust of investors in the Ukrainian company, the trust of Ukrainian residents, you need to invite investors here or go to them to show that we are ready to be reliable partners — and this cannot be done through Zoom. All investment plans for the future are in this mode. We proceed with the things that we can implement ourselves, but what needs to be implemented with partners, we put on hold for now.